We’re on week two of Leviticus and it’s more instructions on ritual slaughter for praising the Lord at the temple. It can feel as removed from 21st-century life as last week’s Parsha Vayikra and I suspect this will be a theme throughout the book.
The practices sound pagan or like God was trying to wean His followers off of paganism by allowing them to dabble with their former religion. It’s the religious equivalent of a little hair of the dog to kill a hangover. In ancient Judaism, you could still sacrifice an animal but only for one God.
Part of what convinced me to follow the Torah cycle for 5780 (2019 – 2020) was an interest in following the narrative of this ancient text. I long (and ignorantly so) dismissed Abrahamic religious texts, assuming they all led to zealotry and creepy televangelists.
But in college, I had no problem diving into Buddhist and Hindu mythology or creation texts. Even if I wasn’t doing this out of a grander mission to connect with my Jewish heritage, I can already easily concede that understanding the Hebrew Bible is important basic education in understanding a large chunk of the world.
Everything, not just the Torah, can read like a commentary on the coronavirus these days. This week, it’s about how a community responds to the moment before them.
Exodus ends on this Torah cycle with Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei read back-to-back. Both follow a similar narrative. God reiterates some rules, like the importance of keeping the Sabbath (do work and die) and He asks for some gifts. Well, sort of.
I suppose global catastrophes make it easier to find meaning in the simplest things. A month ago, the golden calf of Parsha Ki Tisa would’ve been humankind’s pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of others. Or something like that.
But reading Parsha Tetzaveh in the midst of the coronavirus intensified that reading. Today, the golden calf is ego––people putting their desires over the health and safety of others.
I have to be honest. The Torah is starting to drag for me, and as a result, I’m starting to get behind on my Parsha writing. This is the first entry that hasn’t been posted before the Parsha would’ve been read in its current cycle.
To be fair, I was in Greece for a week. I did read the Parsha before going, took some notes, and started writing, but just couldn’t muster the energy (or interest) to get something posted before leaving. But had it been an interesting Parsha or at least surrounded by more interesting Parshas in the Torah, maybe I would’ve gotten something out. Alas, I’m left playing a little bit of catchup, forcing myself to hammer this out when I’d much rather be working on another project. Just being honest, Torah. Please don’t smite me.
I can’t muster much to say about this Parsha. Gut reaction? It’s boring and not particularly interesting. Any lesson derived from this text would feel like trying to make a diamond out of a turd.
The text for this Parsha contains painfully specific instructions from the Lord on how the Israelites should honor Him with gifts and how they should construct the Tabernacle to carry the Ten Commandments. Here’s just a taste.
Now that the Israelites are free again, they need to set some rules for their fledgling society. After all, you can’t have a society without rules. I know ardent anarchists would disagree with me on this, but I can’t imagine that’s a big chunk of my audience anyhow.
Parsha Mishpatim is all about laws. Right off the bat, we get important rules to live by, like: “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment.”
Moses can’t do it all on his own and God isn’t above guilting future generations of Jews. That’s the gist of Parsha Yitro.
The narrative gets us to that realization by putting Moses in the wilderness with his father-in-law, Jethro (not of Beverly Hillbillies fame). Moses recounts the miracle of the exodus and gives Jethro a little insight into his busy schedule, sitting “as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.”
Could you imagine being available to people, day in, day out, without a break? Moses must’ve been buried in an unwatched Netflix queue.